Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Anne's New and Hot and Book Review

New and Hot: "Nietzsche, Spencer and the Ethics of Evoltution" by Gregory Moore, published 2002

An interesting “New and Hot” that I discovered relates the philosophy of Nietzsche to the Darwinian ideas of evolution. I know that some people expressed interest in the Impact that Darwin has had on many aspects of society, so when I saw this paper I thought people may find it interesting. It appeared in the Journal of Nietzsche Studies in 2002. It is quite comprehensive, but for anyone interested, this paper written by Gregory Moore, explains the philosophy of Nietzsche and intertwines the discussion with evolution and biology. According to the paper, Nietzsche’s philosophies are Anti-Darwinian, and as a contemporary, Moore argues that his philosophy represents a reaction to Darwin’s theories. Here is an interesting passage from the paper:

“Nietzsche's rejection of survival as a primary biological imperative is a key component of his anti-Darwinian theory of evolution. But long before he sought to replace the instinct for self-preservation with his own conception of the will to power, he tried to find other ways to account for the behavior that Spencer and others attributed to this superfluous and teleological principle. In a note written in 1880, for example, he writes: "There is no instinct for self-preservation. Rather, to seek what is pleasant, to avoid what is unpleasant—this explains everything which is attributed to that drive" (KSA 9, 6[145]). Like Spencer, Nietzsche believes that the universal allure of pleasure and avoidance of pain can be used to explain human conduct (and, a fortiori, morality) as an extension of more primitive animal behavior. In contrast to Spencer, however, he holds that the acts that give rise to pleasure and pain are not goal-directed; they are, rather, merely "playful expressions of the impulse toward action" (KSA 9, 11[16])."

The paper also elaborates on ethics and morality and a passage that I found interesting explains how Darwin presented morality in his book, “Descent of Man”. Before reading this paper, I hadn’t realized that Darwin presented natural selection and human behavior in a moral light. Here is an interesting passage:

“Although Darwin believes that a moral sense originated through the natural selection of those tribes in whom the social instinct was strongest, he recognizes that this primitive ethic gradually developed into a "higher morality" through the effects of habit, rational reflection, and religious instruction. Not "the survival of the fittest" but "as ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise" has come to be regarded as the true maxim of human conduct. Nor is moral progress at an end. "Looking to future generations," Darwin prophesies, "there is no cause to fear that the social instincts will grow weaker, and we may expect that virtuous habits will grow stronger, becoming perhaps fixed by inheritance. In this case the struggle between our higher and lower impulses will be less severe, and virtue will be triumphant." 6 This theistic notion of evolution as an ever-upward progression away from earlier forms of animal life and toward spiritual and social perfection came to be inseparable from the way Darwinism was received and interpreted.”

For more information the website where I found the paper is :
You can also find it by researching through the Stanford library website and access the publication directly.

My account on Amazon wont let me post my review on the website, but here is my review of the Autobiography of Charles Darwin posted here:

I would give Darwin’s Autobiography four out five stars. Darwin provides a thoroughly interesting and readable account of his life, and a unique window into the man behind the theories and ideas so familiar to us today.

He traces his life from his childhood education up to his late life. Darwin focuses on the aspects of his life that have influenced his theories and publications, rather than focusing on every event of his life, and by doing so he succeeds in writing a concise but useful account of his life. It is interesting to compare Darwin’s Autobiography to that of his contemporary, Benjamin Franklin, whose autobiography takes a drastically different approach. Franklin presents himself as a model of how to succeed, and although he uses humor, his writing takes on a distinctly pompous tone. Darwin’s autobiography reflects his scientific mind because his language contains none of the flowery pros of Ben Franklin. Darwin even admits to the evolution of his own mind from one that appreciated poetry and music to one that was more scientific.

The most interesting aspect of his Autobiography for me is the way he integrates familiar figures like Lyell, Wallace, Henslow and Sedgewick into his account. I have heard of all these people in isolation, but by bringing them all together, Darwin really brings the reader back in time. He shows how different ideas and prominent figures influenced him. The description of his relationship with Lyell provides a particularly interesting window into Darwin’s life and the scientific culture in England in the nineteenth century.

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